#AtoZChallenge: Ant Farm


Mr. Davis greets me in a rush. Doesn’t even look at me. He knots his tie on the way to the elevator. Mrs. Davis follows soon after. She stutters over her greeting twice. Faulty wiring. Vocal controls need to be fixed. But she looks me in the eye at least. I respond with a nod. No time for words. I’m running late. The elevator’s already headed to the ground floor.

I press the button and wait. More neighbors emerge into the hallway. Moving fast. A ding, and the doors open. A dozen of us wedge ourselves inside. And we’re headed down. Silence. Small talk not part of their programming. Then the sound of tapping. Fingers against plastic screens. Someone snorts. A funny text. Another ding. We ooze out like toothpaste. Some head to the parking garage. Others to the bus stop. I fall in step with the latter.

The bus pulls in as I reach the stop. We file in as another group files out. Night shift. Or they work here. Maybe they’re just bored. Doesn’t matter. I’m on the bus. Scan-cam flits around, checking bus passes. All clear. The bus rumbles along. Twenty minutes trickle past like water from a dripping faucet. So many stops. Is it always this many? I glance at my watch. Almost there. One more stop. I get in line. Single file out the door. A moving cloud of people floating into the train station.

Inside, the cloud disperses into droplets. Garbled announcements ring out. More audio issues. Need to be fixed. Trains pull in. Crowds descend upon them. Like piranhas feasting on big fish. But the big fish win. Swallow them up. Trains pull out. Another announcement. The jumbled words are familiar. My train’s coming. So are the piranhas.

I get caught in the current. Flow into the train. Manage to find my footing again. No empty seats. There never are. Doors close, cutting off the crowd outside. The train exits the station. The city passes by on either side of the tracks. Trees waving in the breeze. Cars zooming back and forth. A few stations later, the city changes. Less green, more silver. Buildings get taller. Cars lined up on the highway. Like they’re stuck in time. Air is thicker too. Smoggier. Just a few more stops. Half hour trip. Always feels longer when you’re standing. Doors whoosh open. The tide flows out. I exit the station. Walk another five minutes. Gleaming office tower in front of me. Reflective blue glass.

I walk through the lobby. Greet Bill the security guard. He nods. He raises his hand. Movement too mechanical. A ping from the ID scanner. I’m through. Into the elevator pit. Eight elevators, all taken. Watching numbers rise and fall. Like a stockbroker with nowhere to go. Ding. Finally. Wedge myself in. More texting. No conversation. Up to the 35th floor. Several dings along the way. Doors open.

People running back and forth. Meetings. Phone calls. Deadlines to be met. I walk to my desk. Check some emails. Type in a few commands. Everything stops. Complete silence. People sitting. Standing. Mid-stride.

A few glitches, but everything looks good. It could be a real city. With a few tweaks, it will be. I make some notes. Resume the session. People rush about again. Time to get to work. It’s been a slow morning.

The Way It Was, Pt. 2

That’s impossible. Well, not quite.

I mean, there are people who have a striking resemblance to each other in real life. Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel, for example. Or Robert Downey Jr. and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. But a man with the exact same face as mine, standing in the same bar that I’m in? That’s just way too big a coincidence.

I realize that I’m staring at the guy, so I try to look away but it’s too late. He sees me. He smiles and raises his glass in my direction. What the hell? He doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. To my growing discomfort, he excuses himself from his companions and heads over to my booth. This could get awkward.

“Well hello!”

The man looks like me and he sure sounds like me but he can’t be me because I’m me. Aren’t I?

“Umm, hi…”

My doppelgänger slides into the seat opposite mine, grinning like a maniac.

“I knew I’d find you here!”

He did?

“You did?”

The man takes a sip of his drink. Whisky on the rocks. One of the top shelf brands, no doubt.

“Course I did, bud. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

I chug my beer until it’s almost gone. There was this crazy suspicion I had right after I noticed the resemblance between us. As I look closer, that suspicion starts to grow stronger. The man isn’t an exact duplicate. His face is a bit thinner, his hair has a lot more gray threading through it. I can hear now that his voice is a bit lower than mine, a bit rougher.

“You’re…from the future.”

He sits back with a satisfied smile.

“Yes. I mean, sort of.” He pauses, trying to find the right words. “Think of me as your unfulfilled potential. I’m the man you could be in ten years.”

“The man I could be.”

“That’s right. Look at your life right now. Really look at it. What are you doing? Where are you going? You’ve had a few setbacks. Lost your job. Had no luck in love. So now you’re stuck in the same routine, day in and day out. You’ve given up. Hell, your life has given up.”

“And if I try real hard, I can become a dick like you?”

He gives me a look, the kind of look you might give a small dog that’s trying to jump onto the couch but not quite getting there. I don’t like that look.

“Well hey, this dick’s got a pretty solid bank account and a living room the size of your apartment. So you tell me.”

He makes a good point. Not that it gives him any right to be a dick about it.

“And you’re here to get me to turn my life around, to become the man I was meant to be. To become you. That it?”

He smiles. It’s really beginning to annoy me, even though it’s the same smile I’ve seen in the mirror and in countless pictures of myself. I used to love that smile.

“No, that’s not why I’m here. I just came to look back at my life. To see the way it was before I changed. Before you changed, I should say. I lived such a sad, meaningless life back then, didn’t I? I’d forgotten just how much time I spent in this damn place, stinking of stale beer and piss. No goals in sight. No hope in mind. Just drinking the time away until a new day arrives.”


“So you came back to…mock me?”

He shrugs. “It’s good to look back on your past now and again. See the dead end paths you’ve walked to avoid walking them again.”

I’m tempted to smack him upside his pretentious head.

The Way It Was, Pt. 1

Three empty glasses sit on the table in front of me. They were filled with beer earlier. The dark wooden table hides the stains of spilled booze well, but the stickiness gives it away. Sticky tables, sticky floors. I really hope it’s just dried booze. Then again, I don’t care much right now. It’s Saturday night at Donaghan’s and I have at least three more beers to get through before closing time.

The place is pretty full. Lots of people standing around near the bar, waiting for someone to leave or just pass out. It’s a good thing I got here early. Not like I have many other place to go. I haven’t been working for the past two months and it’s been about a year since my last semi-serious relationship. My apartment is a cage, tiny and rectangular. There’s just enough space for me to breathe, but my thoughts get stifled there. Donaghan’s is a much better place to think. And nobody judges you for drinking by yourself in a bar. That’s kinda why it exists in the first place.

I suppose I could approach some of the people here, attempt to make new friends. Who knows, we might even hit it off and have a fun night. But then they would leave, going back to their lives and their jobs. And it would just be me again. As it always is. There are a few regulars around here, but I’m the goddamn customer of the month. And I probably will be for a while.

Another beer lands up on my table. It won’t last long.

As I take a swig, savoring the smooth bitterness of it running down my throat, I see two women head to the bar. Tall brunette and her redhead friend, both dressed to kill. And I’m a dead man. Under better circumstances, ones that didn’t involve being unshaven and walking around in a greasy hoodie, I would put on my most charming face, strut over to those two beauties and chat them up. Oh who am I kidding? I’d probably still be nursing an empty beer glass.

Still, they’re a welcome sight in this dingy rathole. And of course, they’re not by themselves. A man joins them soon enough. Dark tailored suit, looking so sharp it almost slices through the smoky air. Hair cut short and gelled. Clean-shaven, the scent of his aftershave filling the room. I’ll bet his teeth sparkle too. Typical Mr. Perfect, probably an investment banker or financial advisor or something that keeps your pockets full.

I can’t stop looking at him, though. There’s something familiar about him. In fact, as I push back the bleariness clouding my vision and really pay attention to his face for the first time, I realize he looks a bit too familiar. Is he an old high school friend? Or a former co-worker? No, that’s not it.

I sit up, eyes wide.

I know why his face looks so familiar. If he had a scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes, I would have recognized it right away.

It’s my face.

Prodigal Son

“Hark!” exclaimed Lord Pennyfeather, grabbing the arm of his trusty valet Thimble. “Dost I hear the clattering of hooves approaching our gates?”

“Aye, m’lord.” Thimble replied. “A rider approaches.”

“Who is it? Is it Archibald? Has he returned at last?” Lord Pennyfeather sounded expectant, straining his milky white eyes in a vain effort to see the mounted visitor.

“It is indeed, m’lord. Lord Archibald has come home from the war. But he’s not the same man he was, I’m afraid.”

“Ah. Of course.” Lord Pennyfeather’s bony shoulder slumped and he hung his head in relfection. “The ravages of war can break even the most hardened warriors. Such carnage and devastation wreaked upon sons and brothers who fight for some unseen glory. My poor boy. Who knows what horrors he hath witnessed on the field of battle that would have changed him so.”

Thimble fidgeted, looking back and forth between his master and the young man who was now outside the gates.

“Uhh no, m’lord,” he said, twiddling his thumbs nervously. “That’s not quite what I meant. I wasn’t referring to a psychological or mental change. No sir. Lord Archibald is not the same man in a more literal sense.”

Lord Pennyfeather’s bushy eyebrows leaped up to his crinkled forehead in surprise.

“Whatever do you mean, Thimble? I pray, speak not in riddles, my most loyal friend. Tell me, how has my son changed?”

Thimble paused a moment, deciding how best to break the news, settling for the most direct approach in the end.

“Well, he’s a zombie, m’lord.”

“Oh.” Lord Pennyfeather’s brows now came together in conference as he considered this vital bit of information. “Well, seal the gates and shoot the bugger. No point getting everyone else infected.”

WEP February Challenge: Heart’s Desire

A new year of challenges hosted by the wonderful Yolanda and Renee of Write, Edit, Publish! The first theme of the year: Back of the Drawer.

As the name suggests, the prompt is all about what a character finds at the back of a drawer. Love? Riches? Horror? Who can say?

Presented for your reading pleasure, here’s the tale of a thief called Len, who once stole the biggest prize of all: the love of his life.


“Whatever you do, don’t open the top drawer.”

Mal had been very insistent about that. The top drawer was to remain untouched. She wouldn’t say why, and Len knew better than to badger her for answers. She kissed him before he left, holding her lips to his a second longer than usual. If she said to leave that drawer alone, he’d damn well leave it alone.

It was a simple job: break into Mal’s old apartment and retrieve a few items from her bureau. Dob, her drunken pig of an ex-husband and former partner, would probably be out with his floozy of the week, so there was little chance of running into him. Of course, he’d probably have a few people posted around the roofs and balconies, just in case. Still, it was no big deal for Len; getting past security was his specialty. Some reconnaissance, a little sneaking around rooftops and a couple of chokeholds took care of Dob’s crew. No sweat. All he had to do was hop onto an adjacent balcony to get to Mal’s building, then find the right window. But before he could jump, there were footsteps. He’d missed one. The guard emerged from the stairwell to find his partner knocked out and Len standing at the edge of the roof.

The guard pulled out a gun. Len broke off part of an antenna. A bullet shot through the air, missing Len’s neck by inches as he twisted and dove to the ground, flinging the antenna piece. It hit the guard square between the eyes, knocking him off balance. A running jump, a flying kick, some punches, some blocks and one karate chop (not necessary, but fun). It was over. All clear. Len hopped over to the next building and found his window.

Breaking into the actual apartment would be a lot easier. Dob was paranoid but sloppy: his locks and latches didn’t put up much resistance against Len’s deft fingers. He opened the window as quietly as he could and slipped inside. Len was standing in Mal’s study, which Dob had converted into some sort of gaudy trophy room. Many of Mal’s things were untouched, though, including her bureau, pressed up against one corner of the room. Len went over to it and unlocked the drawers. All except the top one, just as instructed. He took out some papers, all stapled together. There were also some folders, Old photographs. One very particular photograph that Mal definitely wouldn’t want Dob to keep. A journal. And her favorite knife, thin curved blade and an intricately carved bone hilt. Her name had been engraved on it, in a language that many had forgotten. That was all. Job done.

As he was getting up, a voice in the back of his mind asked why Mal had told him to leave the top drawer. What was the big secret, and why did she want it to stay with Dob? It didn’t matter. None of Len’s business. He would take Mal’s things back to her and then they could start their new life together. Simple as that.

The voice wouldn’t let up, though. What was the deal with that drawer? Len grunted impatiently and looked at it, really looked for the first time. It was different from the other drawers. Same faded green wood, but an elaborate golden border. Even the knob was different, molded to look like the head of some weird animal. Len could feel the hairs standing on the back of his neck, like they were trying to pull him away. Whatever was in that drawer was bad news, that much he could tell.

But what if he just got a peek? He wouldn’t take what was in there. Just look and lock it up again. Dob wouldn’t know. Neither would Mal. The job was still done and Len would still get paid. What was the big deal? He was standing over the desk, thumb tapping a frantic rhythm on its weathered surface. Just one peek. For curiosity’s sake. Len smiled. Curiosity. It killed cats. But Len was no cat.

He put his tools to work, picking at the lock of the top drawer, but nothing happened. He couldn’t get the damn thing to open. He couldn’t find a latch or a bolt or a way to make that lock go click under his fingers. A voice in his head again, but a different one. A woman’s voice. Soft. Sultry. Soothing. And click. The drawer was unlocked. Len was surprised, but relieved. One little peek. That’s all he wanted. He grabbed the drawer handle. It felt so warm in that cold, cold room. Like it was alive. Len hesitated. And then he pulled. The drawer slid open with a groan. Len peered into it, holding his breath, then letting it all out in one little whoosh. Empty. The drawer was empty.

Len laughed. Mal had made an ass out of him. All that spooky junk about locked drawers and it was empty. He was about to close it when he saw a shadow near the back. There was something there. The drawer wouldn’t open any further. Len craned his neck to get a better look but he couldn’t see anything except shadows. He reached inside and felt around. Felt something small, squishy. It was a heart. Mal’s heart. It glowed bright red, pulsating slowly under his palm. Somewhere across town, Len knew Mal felt her chest tighten. Why was she leaving her heart with Dob? She hated the bastard. Unless she didn’t.

Len closed the drawer and locked it again. He could still feel its pulsing rhythm along his hand. So that was it. Mal belonged to him now, mind, body and soul. But he knew where her heart truly lay. Len climbed back out the window and made his way to his car. He wished he’d never opened that damn drawer.

Word Count: 986

13 Tales of Terror: October Chill

The night was quiet. Not a whisper among the trees. No chirping crickets. Just the soothing sound of silence. Jacob would have felt content on a night like this, but he knew that quiet wouldn’t last. It was All Hallows’ Eve, after all.

In moments, the moon would hide its face in the clouds. The dead would be roused from their slumber and would climb out of the earth. For one night, they had free rein to do as they pleased. To attend unfinished business, to right the wrongs of their lives, or simply to sate their undying lust for blood.

Most people would not know about it. Most people would write it off as myth or legend, a scary story to tell on Halloween. Any sightings of the dead would be considered a work of imagination or, more simply, a well-made costume.  Any act of violence would be attributed to human brutality. Screams of anguish would be drowned out by shouts of revelry. Death’s macabre symphony would echo through the night and people were too deaf to hear it.

But not Jacob. He knew what was coming, as he did every year. While the fools celebrated the occasion, thinking that they were honoring the dead, Jacob knew that the dead didn’t care for honor. Their desires were much more basic.

He stood over the cemetery, letting the late October chill wash over him, and opened the book. Jacob read aloud from it, speaking the sacred words that would keep him safe. The words that would render him invisible to the shambling army.

As he finished and closed the book, the moon disappeared. The night was dark. The trees were one with the sky. There was darkness, but not silence.

The earth shook, groaning and rumbling under Jacob’s feet. It was time. Hell had opened its gates and the dead were coming.

“Happy Halloween,” Jacob muttered as the first decaying hand tore its way up through the ground.

And there you have it! The final Tale of Terror to greet All Hallows’ Eve! Thanks to everyone that stopped by and read my little tales! I hope you enjoyed them and, more than that, I hope they made you shiver…just a little.

I won’t be posting daily stories now, as that’s hard to manage along with my other tasks (though I just had to do it for Halloween!), but I will try to maintain a regular posting schedule. Probably weekly posts, or two a week. Let’s see how that works out.

But for now, I’ll bid you farewell, dear reader, and wish you a terrifyingly Happy Halloween!

13 Tales of Terror: Plots For Sale

Marty wasn’t having a good day.

He had just found out his job was nearing its expiry date, and his love life had already crossed that threshold earlier that morning. Katie didn’t see their relationship going anywhere so she’d gone away instead.

After an excruciating few hours at his desk making small talk with people he’d rather not talk with at all, it was finally lunchtime and Marty could have a few moments to breathe. He didn’t really have much of an appetite that day, so he went for a long walk instead. He could still hear Katie’s voice echoing in his head, telling him that he really needed to buy himself a new life.

Marty kicked a can across the street in frustration, which was about the time he realized that he had no idea what street he was on. He stopped and looked around. None of the street signs were familiar. Neither were the buildings. His office was nowhere in sight, nor any of the office blocks that surrounded it. How far had he walked?

“Plots for sale! Plots for sale!”

There was a man standing on a street corner, perched on top of a small box. He was old, though Marty couldn’t guess at his age. His hair, or what little of it he had, was iron gray, as was the scraggly beard that covered his face. He was dressed in what seemed to be maroon wizard’s robes, tattered and possibly covered in dust. Marty tried not to pay too much attention to him.

“Plots for sale! Plots for sale! What would you like, sir? A thriller to set your heart racing? A little romance to make you dance? Ah, perhaps what you need is a good mystery to solve!”

Marty looked around, puzzled. It was clear the old man was talking to him. After all, he was the only one there. It didn’t make any sense. How did he end up on this strange street by himself? Where was everyone else?

“Come now, sir, don’t be shy! I have so many plots to sell! A new life awaits you with just the turn of a page!”

A new life?

“Right this way, friend!”

The old man waved a hand in the direction of a derelict bookshop. Before Marty could blink, the man was standing next to him and steering him toward the storefront. He wanted to protest. He had to get back to work. He had to find his office. He had to get back to his life. Or did he?

As Marty mulled over the direction his life had taken from the moment he woke up that day, he allowed himself to be led into the dingy bookshop that smelled like musty old paper. Maybe he could pick up some sort of self-help book.

“Well, sir? What will it be?”

The old man’s eyes shone as he displayed his wares, books spread out across rows and rows of dark wooden shelves. The shop was a lot larger than it looked from the outside.

“Perhaps you’d like to purchase a spy plot, full of suspense and intrigue?”

Marty opened the book that the man thrust into his hands. The pages were blank. Marty looked up to ask the shopkeeper about it but he wasn’t there. In fact, the shop wasn’t there. Marty was in an elegant casino, dressed in a sharp dark gray tuxedo. There was a high stakes poker game going on, and Marty was playing one of the most notorious arms smugglers in the world. The fate of several nations would depend on the outcome of the game. Keeping his cool but nervous on the inside, Marty turned over his cards…

“Well? What do you think?”

Marty was back in the bookshop and the old man was eyeing him hungrily. He looked down at the book; there were words in it now. It was describing the plot that Marty had just lived.

“I see spy stories aren’t quite your thing. Perhaps something more in the science fictional realm?”

Marty opened the next book he was given. He was in a satellite that was orbiting a dying world. As the leader of the last remnants of an alien race, Marty had some difficult decisions to make about where they would go next. They wouldn’t last off-world very long. He had to find them a new home. A new planet. He looked at his astronomical charts to determine their next course of action. And that’s when the missiles hit. They were under attack! Marty knew he had to do something, but another round of missiles knocked him off his feet…

“No? Is this not to your liking either, sir? My oh my…you are a tough customer.”

The old man stroked his chin, thinking for a moment. “Well, my friend, I think I have just the book for you.”

Marty’s head was still reeling from the last story, but he was curious about what else the old man had in store. Maybe the next plot would be the one for him.

“Ahh, here we go,” the man said, handing Marty a heavy leather-bound tome. It was devoid of any dust, and seemed almost out of place in the old shop. Marty ran a hand over the cover, relishing the feel of it. He opened it up, hearing a soft sigh escape from the book’s spine. Like the others, it was blank.

But this time, Marty wasn’t sucked into a spy story or a science fiction adventure. He wasn’t sucked into any kind of story at all. There was nothing around him except blank space. He heard a loud thump from somewhere in the distance.

“There, that’s better. Poor fool. You’ve wasted your life, wasted the potential story you could have told. But perhaps someone else will be able to use this plot, and to tell a better tale than you were capable of.”

Marty could do nothing but stay frozen in place as the old man placed the book back onto its shelf. He was nothing more than a blank page now, doomed to stay that way until someone wrote their story.

13 Tales of Terror: Life of the Party

“Raymann! Good to see ya!”

Raymond grinned and bumped Thomas’s extended fist with his own. “Sup Tommy. Sorry for being so late.”

“Hey, no worries man! Ain’t no rush over here!”

Thomas clapped a hand around Raymond’s shoulder and led him into the large drawing room. The party was already in full swing. Several clusters of people were spread out around the room, drinks in hand. There was a group in the center several shots into an intense drinking game.

“You’re the odd one out, bud!”

Raymond laughed as Thomas handed him a glass. He downed it one long gulp, ready to mingle with the crowd.

Thomas called for attention and the whole room went silent.

“Alright, guys. Raymond’s here!”

Several drunken cheers erupted in response.

“Now the night can really begin!”

Everyone cheered again, but their voices sounded really far away to Raymond’s ears. He was smiling, but couldn’t feel any sensation in his face. Thomas smiled back at him, but there was no warmth to his smile.

“Let’s get him ready!” he yelled. Several hands grabbed Raymond, pulling him toward a large door at the back of the room. They were chanting, but he couldn’t understand them. It was a language he had never heard before. They led him through the door into a darkened room that smelled vaguely of smoke and rotting eggs. He was placed on a stone table on his back and tied down.

Through his blurring vision, he saw Thomas approach, holding a jeweled dagger. Everyone was looking down at him now, smiling identical cold smiles.

“It’s party time, Raymond…” were the last words he heard before the dagger pierced his throat.

13 Tales of Terror: Vacant

The room was empty, except for a spider skittering across the floor. It didn’t make it very far.

“Damn bugs,” McDermott growled, scraping his boot across the floor boards. He looked around the room, nodded once, then walked to the far end of it and opened the closet. Empty. The boys had done a thorough job.

The old house had been on the market for a while. Richard McDermott knew its history well, including the murders. Three separate families had been killed in this house in less than a decade.

The Richardsons were strangled in their beds. Husband, wife, two kids. Three years later, the Browns moved in. Young couple, planning to build their lives there. Young wife was found in the kitchen, decapitated. Husband disemboweled in the tub. Then came the Dukes. Big family. Died in ways so gruesome that nobody even talked about them anymore. Just tried to scrub them from memory.

Everyone said the house was haunted, or more likely, possessed by the Devil. McDermott didn’t pay much attention to any of it.

There were no ghosts or demons to worry about in this place.

There was only the thing in the basement. McDermott had no idea what it really was, where it had come from or how long it had been in the house. He just knew he didn’t want it to get out. So he kept it fed, as often as he could. Everyone knew about the three families. Nobody knew about the others, the ones McDermott brought in himself.

It had been hungry for the past few months. But that was about to change. A new family was moving in next week.

McDermott walked out of the house and locked the door behind him.

Just one more week.

13 Tales of Terror: Bulletproof

They called him Bulletproof. He was the man who could survive anything. Anyone that tried to shoot him may as well be throwing confetti. Knives were no worse than rubber against his skin. Bombs? Forget about it.

He had brought down some of the worst scum in the city. Murderers, rapists, drug pushers. He struck at the heart of organized crime and shattered it. He was a hero. A bona fide superhero in their midst.

Everyone wondered how he came to be. Where did those extraordinary abilities come from? Mutation? Genetic experiments? Some believed he was the last survivor of a dying world. That one amused him. But he was a man of mystery and he preferred to keep it that way.

Despite his status in the city, he didn’t hold himself above it. He still lived in his old neighborhood, a place most criminals had learned to leave alone. And on warm nights like the one the city was experiencing now, he liked to take a stroll down familiar streets. It reminded him of who he used to be, of how far he’d come.

“Come on, man, I don’t got all night!”

He sighed. Who would be dumb enough to hold up a convenience store in that area? He followed the voice through the sliding doors. Kid. About twenty, if that. Acted tougher than he was, suffering from the same misconception of immortality that comes with youth. The kid saw him, panicked. Fired a few shots in fear. Put a few holes in his favorite shirt. That wouldn’t do. He knocked the boy out with a light punch to the jaw and wished the store clerk a pleasant rest of the night before walking out.

It felt good to be somebody.

Smiling, he headed for Harry’s. The little bar had been a mainstay of the neighborhood for decades, and it was a regular haunt of his even before his…transformation. He greeted Harry as he walked in through the creaking double doors, and sat on his usual stool. Harry nodded in response and poured him a beer. He was getting grayer by the day, but his hands never shook once when making drinks.

The bar was mostly empty at that time. Just Harry and a small handful of regulars. They all knew him well, and were perhaps the only ones in the city to not treat him like a celebrity. He didn’t mind. He just drank his beer in contented silence.

He was just starting on his second beer when the man walked in. He was old, with patches of gray on his cheeks and chin, and a suit that clung to his spindly limbs. The old man sat down on the stool next to him and smiled, showing a small handful of yellowed teeth.

“Warm tonight, huh?”

He took a long sip.

“I’ve seen warmer.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you have.”

The old man didn’t order a drink or even address Harry, just sat there.

“How does it feel? Being a hero? You like it?”

He shrugged, avoiding the man’s gaze. “I can’t complain.”

“Whole city’s going crazy for you. And here you sit, in this dingy bar. You could be sitting on a throne.”

A short laugh floated over the rim of his beer glass. “I don’t need a throne, old man. Even sitting on this stool, people know who I am.”

The old man nodded. “Ah, that they do. That they do. The man who can survive anything. But all men die in the end.”

“Not me.”

“You think so?”

He drained the last of his beer and looked the old man square in the eye. “I don’t know who you are, friend. But I know this. Nobody in the whole wide world can take me down.”

The old man blinked once and then, without a word, extended his hand and slapped him across the face. He flew halfway across the bar and landed on the floor with a thud. Shocked, he looked up to see the old man standing right in front of him. Except he didn’t look so old anymore. He loomed high, his head almost touching the ceiling. His eyes glowed like burning embers and dark smoke issued from his mouth as he spoke.

“Try to keep your feet on the ground, ‘hero’. Don’t forget who made you what you are. You puff your chest out and strut around this place all you like, but in the end, you serve me. Or maybe you’ve forgotten our deal?”

He stayed on the floor, unable to stop himself from shaking.

“It’s been quite some time since you’ve brought me any souls. And please, I’m getting tired of drug dealers. How about that young oaf you knocked out at the convenience store? Why did you leave him behind? You don’t really fancy yourself a hero now, do you?”

The creature was pacing around the bar right now, though nobody else seemed to notice.

“Get your act together, Bulletproof.” The creature spat out that last word. “Or else I’ll come to collect what you owe me. And I won’t need bullets.”

It leered at him and transformed into a cloud of black smoke that dissipated into that air.

“You alright, bud?”

He looked up. Harry was staring at him, trying to crease his frown lines into an expression of concern. He was still sitting on the same stool The bar was still completely intact. No old man…or anything else.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

Police sirens blared on the streets as two squad cars sped past the bar. He picked up another beer and downed it in one gulp. It was time to go to work.

13 Tales of Terror: Bound

A striped blue sweater.

That was Ben’s first memory of Anna.

A striped blue sweater, alternating between dark and light shades, with a turquoise collar. It was a couple of sizes too big for her, making her look like a little girl in her sister’s old hand-me-downs. But Anna loved it.

All these years later, the colors had faded. The fabric, which Ben remembered as soft and fuzzy, was rough in his hands. He worried it might crumble if he held it too long, but he couldn’t put it down. Not just yet. It was the only connection he had left to her.

Ben and Anna had met in college. He was a freshman with dreams of becoming an English teacher and she was a junior with a passion for chemistry. Their classes were on opposite ends of the campus and they didn’t have any friends in common. The one place where their paths did cross was the library. It was there that he had seen the girl in the blue striped sweater hurrying off, her library card still sitting on the checkout desk. He returned the card and she thanked him. That one exchange turned into a conversation. That one conversation turned into several, and before they knew it, they were going out for dinner.

Ben remembered that night well, including the stunning purple dress Anna had worn. She had torn one of the shoulder straps a couple of years ago, but she still kept the dress around. It was somewhere near the bottom of the pile, still as vibrant as the first time she’d worn it.

Many more dinners followed, along with other outings. The picnic where she’d worn the polka dot dress, the beach trip with the yellow sarong and blue swimsuit, the graduation dinner with the gray gown. Ben picked up each in turn, feeling the fabric knot itself around his fingers, twist around his limbs. He fought the encroaching numbness in his extremities and picked up the box. Inside was Anna’s wedding dress.

They were married on a crisp autumn day, when the leaves were turning but the air was still warm. Anna looked resplendent, shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Ben could still feel the warmth on the dress. He half expected to find his hand circling Anna’s waist, for her to turn and smile at him as he whispered his love to her. Instead, the dress wrapped around him, squeezing his ribcage.

Two years later, Anna gave birth to a son. Daniel was so beautiful, swaddled in a blanket the color of the summer sky. As Daniel grew, there were birthday parties, school functions and family vacations. Gray streaks crept their way through Anna’s hair, but her clothes were as vivid as ever.

Ben remembered the indigo shirt Anna was wearing, in stark contrast to her silver mane, when she collapsed. From that point, she was reduced to lifeless hospital gowns until the end. Dark blue veins climbed along Ben’s neck, bleeding out of the shirt in his hands.

It had been six months since Anna’s passing. Everyone urged him to move on with his life, to keep Anna alive as a memory rather than dying alongside her. Finally, after many discussions with Daniel, Ben decided he was ready. He put all of Anna’s clothes out in the living room, to be donated or sold off. But each article of clothing was a memory, and memories weren’t so easy to erase. Ben was struggling to breathe as the clothes tightened their grip on him; his lungs were collapsing. The sleeves of Anna’s sweater wrapped themselves tightly around his face, and Ben closed his eyes.



Daniel’s voice floated through the hallway.

“Dad? Are you there?”


He walked into the living room and looked around.


There was no response, but he noticed someone sitting in the armchair facing the window.

“Oh, Dad, there you are! I’ve been looking for – ”

Daniel stopped as he reached the chair. His father wasn’t sitting in it. There was just a pile of his mother’s clothes, stacked all the way up to the headrest.


13 Tales of Terror: Eternal Thirst

Malcolm was a vampire.

He hadn’t always been a vampire, of course. In fact, he’d only just become one last night. Before that, he led the simple life of an accountant, managing his company’s books and compiling expense reports. It was a simple, unexciting life. Just the way Malcolm preferred it.

All that changed the night he met Fiona. Or was it Violet? Malcolm was bad with names. Fiona (or maybe it was Violet after all) was the friend of a friend, or rather, the friend of a colleague. There wasn’t much room for friends in Malcolm’s life, so he let his co-workers fill in that role. Alfred was perhaps the one person he might call a friend, if someone were to really quiz him about it.

Every Friday, Malcolm and Alfred would go out after work. They always went to the same place: The Drunken Uncle. They would order three beers each and drink them in silence, or while making small talk about politics or local current affairs. After a couple of hours, they would pay for their drink, shake hands and parts ways, not to see each other again until Monday morning. It was a comfortable routine.

A week ago, Alfred mentioned that his cousin Fiona (it was very likely Violet) was in town for the weekend, and asked if it would be alright for her to join them on their weekly outing. Malcolm wasn’t too fond of breaking routine, but he agreed anyway.

Alfred’s cousin wasn’t what Malcolm had expected at all. She was outgoing, outspoken and knew had to command attention. Malcolm was more drawn to her than he had been to anyone in his life. And she seemed to enjoy his company, which even he found surprising. The usual three beers were swapped out for several shots of harder liquor, and the night went on into the early hours of Saturday morning. The three of them had gone from the bar to Malcolm’s apartment at some point, though Malcolm wasn’t sure when. Alfred had passed out long before then, but he and Violet (or was it Fiona?) were still wide awake and lost in each other.

They had drifted closer over the course of the night, both emotionally and physically. At las, they were sitting face to face, leaning closer still. Malcolm knew what was about to happen, welcomed it. And that’s when it happened. Instead of kissing him, Violet (it didn’t really matter what her name was at this point) went for his neck, biting into his throat. It wasn’t quite as painful as Malcolm had expected, more like getting a shot, really. Within moments, it was done. She leaned back with a satisfied smile on her bloody lips and he suddenly felt very tired.

By the time Malcolm woke up, it was already Saturday night. Violet and Alfred were gone, and Malcolm was alone in his living room. He was disoriented at first, struggling to remember the past twenty four hours of his life. Piece by piece, it came back to him. He remembered what had happened and put a hand up to his neck. There were two small puncture wounds, as if he’d been attacked by a stapler.

Just then, Malcolm felt an unbearable thirst. His mouth was dry and his whole body felt empty. He had to satisfy himself. He knew what he had become, and the unholy urges that came with it.

There was just one problem: Malcolm couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

13 Tales of Terror: The Snake Charmer’s Bargain

The crowd applauded and dispersed. A few people dropped a handful of coins into Bansi’s plate, barely enough to buy one meal. Snake charming wasn’t the attraction it used to be when he was a young man. Bansi packed up his flute and slung his basket over his shoulder. He could feel Katraj slithering around inside, restless now that the show was done.

Bansi had been a nomad his entire life, moving from town to town and entertaining passers-by in the streets. He had no family to ground him, nor any companions on his journey. Except Katraj.

Fifteen years ago, when Bansi was taking his first steps into manhood, he had been taught the art of snake charming by his father. He displayed his skill in his family’s streetside shows, back when there was a bigger audience for such a thing. It was then that he had first come across Katraj, a mere hatchling then about to be devoured by a wild mongoose. Bansi saved the young cobra and took him in, caring for him as a pet and soon making him a partner in his act.

He had no illusions of friendship, though. Bansi knew that the creature owed him no loyalty; the several bite marks dotting the snake charmer’s hands bore testament to that. He merely played his part by dancing to the tune of the flute. Still, he was the closest thing to family that Bansi had after the passing of his parents.

Together, they traveled through towns, cities and villages, putting on a show for anyone willing to watch. They earned just enough to keep Bansi from starving, though he was still more bone than flesh, while Katraj helped himself to the local vermin. Business had been slow of late, and the crowds much thinner. Bansi had lost weight, but had gained a slight limp and an increasingly frequent cough. He was hoping his luck would turn around soon, but that wasn’t to be.

The monsoons hit the city hard that summer. The streets turned into streams, people splashing to and fro to find shelter from the endless downpour. Bansi found a roof when he could, but spent most of his time drenched and with an agitated snake on his back. Performing was impossible and his money had already run out. Trudging through water and grime over long hours was starting to catch up with him, the cold air whispering into his bones.

On yet another wet afternoon, he set off in search for food and lodging. He was trembling from head to toe, clad in a thin blue shirt and white pants with only a pair of worn brown sandals on his his feet. The weather had finally caught up to him. Burdened by hunger and fatigue, he slumped under the meager protection of a tea stall awning. His cough sucked the air out of his lungs with more force than ever before. He lay back against the empty stall, trying to catch his breath, but it hovered out of his reach. There was no one to see him or help him. Katraj was the only companion he had.

Bansi’s eyes grew heavy. He was tired, and it was time for him to rest. As his vision blurred, he saw a hazy silhouette advancing toward him. It was a man, sitting atop some great beast. As the figure drew closer, Bansi’s eyes cleared and widened with fear. The rider was the color of a starless sky with eyes that could see through worlds, and his steed was a buffalo that would tower over the largest elephants Bansi had seen. Bansi bowed his head before Yama, the Lord of Death, who carried with him a great lasso to ensnare souls and take them to the realm beyond life.

“Oh great Lord,” he said, voice quivering. “Why have you come to me? The path of my life still stretches far ahead of me. I have many wonders to see, many challenges to face. Why, Lord Yama, would you snatch that away from me?”

Yama’s gaze was stern, but not cruel.

“Your journey in life ends here, my child. As is written in the law of the universe, you must come with me now to Naraka, where your soul will begin a new journey.”

“Please, great Lord, do not take me just yet. I know there is much more for me to do. Spare me, and I shall become your devotee, and sing praises in your name until my strength fails me. Then, my Lord, I shall accompany you without hesitation.”

Yama unfurled his rope.

“It is my duty to take the dead where they belong, my son. I cannot change that anymore than Brahma can change the stars.”

“Please!’ Bansi cried out, his voice feeble. “I am not ready! I am not ready! If it is a life you want, take Katraj! He is old and has lived many years as a captive. Let this be the end of his struggle!”

“Do not presume to bargain with a god!” Yama’s voice was sharp as a thunderclap. “You think I will be satisfied with your pet snake? I have come for you, Bansidhar, and it is you I shall take!”

Yama flung his rope at Bansi who, with the last ounce of his strength, threw the basket at the enraged deity. The lasso wrapped around Katraj and pulled him onto the buffalo’s back.

“So,” Yama roared, glaring down at the prone snake charmer, “when bargaining fails you attempt to trick me? Very well, mortal. I will accept your bargain then. I was sent here to take a life and so I shall. As for you, Bansidhar, you shall live. And you will not forget me or our bargain until the end of your days!”

With that, Yama rode off into the storm, leaving Bansi cold but still living.

When the rain let up, Bansi felt lighter than he ever had. He was alive! He had given up the creature he once considered a friend, but it was a necessary sacrifice. And, as he reminded himself, the snake saw no friendship. Happy at a second chance, Bansi attempted to stand up, but could not. In fact, he couldn’t feel his legs at all. What happened? Had Yama crippled him? Was that his punishment?

As Bansi tried to make sense of his current situation, a man came along. He started at the sight of the young man and immediately rushed at him with a stick. Bansi fled without a moment’s hesitation.

“Leave! Go on!” the man shouted. “Starting the evening with a snake at my stall. It’s bad luck, I tell you!”

Frightened and confused, Bansi slithered away. He had a full life ahead of him now, and plenty of time to ponder the price of that life.

13 Tales of Terror: Doorway

Halloween. A time when life and death dance together in a grim waltz. A time when pumpkins leer at passers-by, perhaps hoping to devour them the same way that their brethren were once eaten (people pie, anyone?).

And of course, a time for stories that make teeth chatter and souls shudder. So it is that we begin our Halloween journey with the first installment of 13 Tales of Terror. As it turns out, this is also the start of the WEP Halloween challenge (lasting till October 21st), so this story will also serve as my contribution to that.

Without any further ado, let’s get right into the story. Happy hauntings!



We are explorers. We can’t help it. Maybe it comes from our thirst for knowledge and understanding. Or maybe it’s just pure and simple greed, the desire to find more and have more. Whatever it is, it pushes us beyond the boundaries we’ve defined, trying to open locked doors to create new passages.

But some doors should remain locked. You don’t want to knock on them. And if you do, pray no one opens it.

At the Reinbacher Observatory, we looked to the stars in search of undiscovered worlds, but one showed up much closer than expected.

I was working quite late and had the observatory to myself. It was a boyhood dream, spending the night under the stars with a giant telescope. It was when I got up to stretch my legs that I saw the rift.

It was a bright gash cutting across the air, as if a lightning bolt had frozen mid-arc. It hovered near the main entrance, about ten feet off the ground. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but it didn’t take long to realize what it was: a doorway.

As I approached the strange portal, I realized that the light only existed along its perimeter. Inside, it was pitch black. A strange energy emanated from within the portal, making it thrum with life. For an instant, curiosity overtook caution and I reached my arm out to touch it. The air around my finger tips crackled and sizzled as I got closer, and I could hear my heart beat as if someone were holding it up next to my ear. Shaking, I pulled my arm back. That was a bad idea. But there had to be another way to get through.

I rummaged around in my desk until I found a two-way radio set. My colleague Dr. Benson and I would sometimes alleviate long stretches of star gazing by radioing each other, pretending that we’d made first contact. Now I had the chance to try it out for real.

I hurled one of the radios at the portal, watching it sail through the air before the void swallowed it up. There was no crash or clatter. My radio buzzed with static. After a moment’s pause, I spoke into it.

“Hello. My name is Dr. Arjun Mehta. Is anybody out there?”

Of course, I had no idea if whoever was on the other side spoke English or could understand me at all, but I was hopeful that the sound would get their attention. And that they could figure out how to use a radio transmitter.

I sent several messages out into the darkness, but all I received was silence.

Until finally, after what seemed like hours, someone responded.


It just sounded like more static at first. Then I could make out a sound, but no words. It sounded like yowling, though it would have to be a hell of a large cat to yowl like that. My hands were shaking so much I could barely keep a grip on the radio. My voice was dry, but I managed to croak out another message.

“H-hello? Can…can you hear me?

The radio went silent. No yowling, no hissing of static. I could hear the blood rushing through my veins.

I was about to relay another message when there was an explosion of light from the portal. It blazed all around me, forcing my eyes shut against the intense brightness. I could hear the yowling sound again, but this time it was all around me. Panic pulled me away from the sound, but I didn’t know which way to go. I stood rooted in place, desperately hoping this wasn’t the end.

And then, everything stopped.

I opened my eyes, blinking a few times to adjust to normal lighting again. It was quiet once more, and there was no trace of anyone or anything having entered or exited the portal. The portal was still there, but the light around it had dimmed. It was fading. Within minutes, it had disappeared completely.

My knees buckled and I collapsed into a chair. Had I imagined it? The only proof of the portal’s existence was in my memory, and I was becoming less sure that it could be trusted. After a few more minutes, I took a deep breath, refocused my mind and went back to work recording the non-imaginary phenomena I’d observed that evening.

It was still too quiet for my liking, but I ignored that as I entered the data. The stillness of the night was playing tricks on my sleep-deprived mind.

I went back to the telescope for some more observations, and that’s when I felt the floor give out from under me. Something was very wrong. The display showed images of the night sky and somewhere off to the side, standing out amongst the stars, was a small blue dot.

It was Earth.

The air in the room was starting to get heavy. I ran out of the room, gasping for breath. I kept going until I was out of the observatory, and then my feet stopped moving on their own. Darkness stretched out in front of me. There were a handful of stars twinkling overhead and a gray shifting mass below that could have been land or water, but one thing was for certain: I was far from home.

Slowly, I went down on my knees, trying to catch my breath but with no idea what kind of air I was breathing. I was startled by the sound of the radio, still in my pocket, which began to hiss. It almost fell out of my hands as I pulled it out, and after I had managed to steady myself enough, I held it close and listened.

Through the static, I heard a voice. A high, whining voice that made every hair in my body stand on end:

“I can hear you, Dr. Mehta.

I can hear you.”

It’s Alive!

In the spirit of the season, it seemed appropriate to resurrect this dead blog of mine. Alas, most of my writing of late has been confined to a professional environment, with barely any time for the more creative side of it.

However, Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pen a scary story or two for the occasion. And why stop at two when you can shoot for a baker’s dozen?

That’s right, I’ve got 13 spooky tales coming up that are brimming with chills, thrills and more than a few kills.

The first day of my 13 Tales of Terror series will coincide with the October challenge on Write, Edit, Publish (hosted by the lovely Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey) and thus I’ll begin with my entry for that challenge.

So have a seat (you’ll only need the edge of it) and prepare yourself for some tricky treats. The 13 Tales of Terror are almost here!